The Most Underrated Cruise Destinations Around the World

Viking Orion/Oyster

The Caribbean, the Mediterranean, repeat -- it's easy to get in a rut when cruising. But there are so many more destinations waiting to be discovered by sea. With that in mind, broaden your horizons with this list of the most underrated cruise destinations around the globe. Which itinerary will you book next?

Japan

Tokyo/Oyster

What It's All About: Japan is a beautiful and mysterious destination where, despite the language barrier, locals come out to greet ships as they arrive in port and bid a fond farewell it departs. Many luxury and premium cruise lines (think Silversea, Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania, Windstar, and Celebrity) offer 10-night (and longer) voyages in the region. The most common itineraries clock in at two weeks and are either round-trips from Tokyo or follow the Tokyo to Hong Kong route. Add a few more days to your itinerary and you can cruise from Tokyo to Seward, Alaska, or Singapore.

Why We Love It: There is so much to see in Japan and one cruise probably won't do justice to it all. North of Tokyo, you'll likely visit Sapporo (home of world-famous Sapporo beer) and Hakodate. Meanwhile, south of the city, you'll find Mount Fuji, Kobe, and Osaka. Travel in the spring to see Japan's famed cherry blossoms and be ready to embrace each shore excursion, which will bring you close to temples, shrines, and fish markets, as well as allow you to take part in tea ceremonies and go to the top of Tokyo Tower.

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New England & Canada

Boston/Oyster

What It's All About: If you think New England and Canada cruise itineraries are just for your grandparents, think again. Sure, in days of yore, most cruises to the northeast were reserved for slow-paced leaf-pepping in the fall, but times have changed. These days, a plethora of cruise lines -- including Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Cunard, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, and American Cruise Line -- call on northeast ports from April through October each year. In the late spring and summer, you can whale-watch from the deck. Meanwhile, autumn treats passengers to a riot of colors as trees change hues in September and October. You can book one- or two-week voyages, as well as a few extended itineraries if you have plenty of time on your hands. Embarkation cities include New York City, Bayonne (New Jersey), Providence and Warren (Rhode Island), Boston, Portland (Maine), and Montreal.

Why We Love It: New England and Canada cruises present the perfect mix of metropolitan cities and quaint seaside towns, many with craggy shorelines and lighthouse sentinels. Learn about America's colonial history in Boston; see the mansions of Newport; eat a scrumptious lobster dinner at a beachside shack in Bar Harbor; kayak the scenic Bay of Fundy when in New Brunswick; and practice your French in Quebec. Special sailings celebrate the Fourth of July or revel in gold and red as the leaves turn colors in New England and Canada each fall.

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Portugal's Douro River

Douro River Cruise; Gerry Labrijn/Flickr

What It's All About: When it comes to river cruising, most people naturally think of Europe's Danube, Rhine, or Elbe. But you'd be missing out if you discounted Portugal's Douro River. More and more river cruise lines -- like Scenic, Croisi Europe, Viking, Emerald, AmaWaterways, and Uniworld -- are positioning ships along the Douro, but it's still relatively undiscovered. That means, now is the time to go! Look for round-trip voyages out of Porto, Portugal, or from Lisbon to Porto (or in reverse). There are even some routes that embark from Porto or Lisbon and disembark in Madrid, Spain.

Why We Love It: A Douro River cruise moves at a slower pace than other rapid-fire European river cruises that often hit multiple ports in one day. This river cruise lets you drink in the scenery, including the ancient Roman city of Porto that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, medieval hilltop villages, gorgeous terraced vineyards, and olive groves. If you love history and wine, especially Port, you will find plenty to embrace along the Douro.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal; Boris Kasimov/Flickr

What It's All About: Cruisers get a twofer when they sail the Panama Canal. Nautical and engineering types get a thrill from seeing how the locks of the canal were built and now operate, while nature lovers are spellbound by some of the excursions that explore the flora and fauna of Panama and often Costa Rica. When sailing the Panama Canal, you'll need to decide between a full transit (generally from Miami or Fort Lauderdale and a California port like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego). Both Windstar Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions offer full transits of the canal. A partial transit is shorter and usually a round-trip out of a Florida gateway. Additional port calls are in Panama, a Caribbean island or two, and possibly a Central or South American destination. Norwegian and Princess are two lines that often offer partial transits.

Why We Love It: The Panama Canal is a wonder of modern-day engineering. On your journey, you'll learn how a team of engineers and laborers cut a path across a continent to join two oceans. The technical marvel of the Panama Canal cannot be overstated. That being said, you'll see more than just the canal locks. Port calls often include Puntarenas, Costa Rica, for a look at the active Arenal volcano. Continuing to Puerto Limon, you have the option to visit Tortuguero National Park, where you can look for all sorts of birds, crocodiles, tortoises, and monkeys. In Guatemala's Puerto Quetzal, you'll visit Antigua, a colonial city that's now a UNSESCO World Heritage site.

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